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Sunday, 02 May 2010 21:04

More public consultation on internet filter


Government is considering another round of public consultation on its controversial internet filter plans, this time to fine tune the transparency and accountability measures attached the complaints-based blacklist scheme.

The legislation was already unlikely to get introduced to the parliament before the June sitting, and even a short public consultation would almost certainly push its introduction back further.

Which means this legislation probably won't get looked at until the after the Federal election.

This is a difficult issue for both sides of politics, and as much as Government might be gaming the drafting of the legislation to keep it out of the way of an election campaign, the Opposition is likely to just as pleased not to have to come to grips with a firm position.

The mandatory internet filter policy is not, as some might suggest, electoral poison. But it's not exactly a ray of sunshine either. It is about as polarising an issue as you will find anywhere in contemporary Australia. The internet filter generates enormous heat - genuine anger and angst - among those who are strongly opposed to it. But equally, its goals find a quieter form of support among many in mainstream Australia.

It's just difficult. In its most simplified form: Nobody wants kids unnecessarily exposed to materials that would be Refused Classification by the classifications board. And equally, nobody wants to see censorship of the internet.

But just because it's difficult doesn't mean the Rudd Government isn't committed to seeing its filter plans passed into law. It is committed to scheme, and a delay until after the election has the added advantage of giving it - should Labor retain power - a somewhat more airtight mandate to move ahead with the policy.

Of course anything can happen in an election year. And in an immediate post-election environment. But if Kevin Rudd remains PM, you can be sure the filter will remain on the agenda.

The politics are as cloudy as ever.

We know there are loud voices of disquiet about the internet filter within the Labor caucus, and we know ACT Senator Kate Lundy had been advocating an opt-out filter scheme as a compromise plan.

What we haven't heard is where the Liberal Party is placing itself in relation to the filter scheme. And they have a party room at least as divided on the issue as Labor's. Opposition communications spokesman Tony Smith is probably relieved that this is not likely to be an issue for him before the election - because until the draft is published, the problem is entirely Stephen Conroy's.

We know Nick Minchin has written in opposition to the filter. We know Joe Hockey has voiced his concerns about the filter being the thin end of the wedge of a government censorship apparatus.

But there are no shortage of supporters of the filter's intent (if not the actual Labor plan) within the Liberals' party room. Tasmanian senator Guy Barnett is often associated with socially conservative views, and the broad sweep of cleaning up the internet is very much an active interest of his - and others - in the party room who will need convincing.

It is actually hard to imagine how the Opposition would spin any decision to vote against the mandatory filter. It is, in effect, Coalition policy from the Howard years.

Former communications minister Helen Coonan set up the blacklist regime that bans RC content being hosted in Australia. The Rudd Government's mandatory filter attempts to apply those same standards to content hosted offshore.

Anything is possible in politics. But if the Liberals end up opposing the filter, they will have made some difficult leaps in logic and spin.

As with everything in this debate, there will be a lot of unhappy campers no matter which way this thing goes.


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